Stop Thinking Like a Cartographer

Ann Stark shares four design principles to make your maps stand out.

Jul 23rd, 2012

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00:01Okay, my name is Ann Stark and I would like to suggest that in order that you make a better map... stop thinking like a cartographer.

00:10We all started at the beginning of our mapmaking careers possibly making maps like this...

00:15...which might be accurate but are not the best-looking map that we've ever seen.

00:22But I know that in our hearts, we all strive to grow to this point where we make maps that are a joy to look at and study.

00:33And while this last map is complicated and complex, it's still clear, relevant, and interesting.

00:43So how do you progress from the beginning to making maps that are beautiful to look at?

00:49I'd like to suggest that you need to stop thinking solely like a cartographer and start thinking more like a designer.

00:56The graphic design realm has four principles that they can share with us, and if you start to look for them...

01:04...if you learn them, you'll start to see them, and they are what can make great maps...

01:08...great posters, great eye-catching advertising.

01:13So, let's take a chance and learn them.

01:17So they are contrast, repetition, alignment, and proximity; and there is a handy acronym for you to remember them...

01:27...and you can think of it as what you're trying to avoid when you're making maps.

01:31And I'm going to go through each of them quickly, but I would encourage you to take a look at design blogs on the Internet.

01:37There's a lot of examples out there.

01:41So the first is contrast, and basically, it means that they're going to do something different...

01:46...make sure it's really different, not just kind of different.

01:48It can be the very most important visual attraction to your map, so don't make wishy-washy maps.

01:54Don't make maps where all the fonts are the same, where all the colors are the same palette.

01:58Make something important on your map stand out.

02:02So this is an example of a bowhead migration route, and is there any doubt to you where the bowhead whales...

02:07...are migrating on this map?

02:10No. It's that big yellow line.

02:12It's the only shadowed line; it's a bright contrasting color from the background map...

02:16...and while it still looks good, it stands out.

02:19And it's the thing that it catches your eye.

02:23The second principle is repetition, and this can be a variety of visual elements.

02:29I would like to suggest that it can also be the map itself.

02:32So this is particularly important; if you have time-related information and you want to show something...

02:38...happening over a series of time, consider repeating the map itself and highlighting the thing that's changing.

02:44Your eye looks for the pattern, finds the pattern, and then you understand the message.

02:49The next is alignment.

02:50Nothing should be placed on the page arbitrarily, and here's a tip - don't accept the defaults.

02:56You want to unify, you want to organize, and you want to align information.

03:00And wishy-washy maps align on the center, so go for the edge and be bold.

03:06Proximity is the idea that groups of small things can make a bigger message or create a larger visual unit...

03:12...and they help your mind understand what's related because they're next to each other.

03:18The one thing that you can do to make a better map right now, when you go back to your desk... be bold and break the neatline.

03:25Though we've been kind of taught, growing up, that everything should go in a box - put a box around your map...

03:29...put a box around your legend - it's time to break out of the box.

03:34So if you take a look at this national park map, you'll see that just the edge breaks over into the black...

03:39...but you can tell right away that it's a modern map.

03:41It looks interesting; there's that contrast that caught your eye.

03:45And if you take a look at this flyer, it looks like the map's about to spill out onto your lap.

03:49So that's interesting to you; it makes you want to find out more.

03:54So, remember to stop thinking like a cartographer; start thinking like a designer.

04:00My name is Ann Stark and I'm on the Internet in various places and I look forward to having...

04:04...a discussion with you about great design.


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